Prevail with customers' e-mail

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Approximately 90 percent of all Internet users between the ages of 12 and 69 send or receive e-mail. This basic communications tool is almost universally used according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. However, many companies -- even those who prize their customer call response times -- fall short in managing customer e-mails in a timely and professional manner.

A report by Jupiter Research shows that a majority of customer e-mails either go unanswered for days or are not answered at all. No self-respecting customer service representative would allow that to happen with a telephone call. And the e-mail problem may be getting worse. Jupiter Research found that only 25 percent of companies respond to customer e-mail questions within 24 hours. That number is down from 27 percent only two years ago.

Some companies also fail in the quality of the responses sent via e-mail, according to Forrester Research. A recent report found that less than half of response e-mails actually answer the customer's question.

Leaving messages unanswered or sending inadequate responses is not the best practice for a "universally used" communications channel. Following are key points to consider when reviewing the customer e-mail practices of your company.

  • Set and achieve response time goals: Commit to and achieve competitive response times for e-mails. Make e-mail response times a priority.
  • Program automatic acknowledgements: Increase customer confidence and manage customer expectations by programming your e-mail system to acknowledge the receipt of each e-mail. The automatic response should thank the customer for their inquiry and let them know when to expect an answer. Customers will accept a delay if they know their request is being processed.
  • Invest in an automated e-mail management System: Budget for a proven e-mail management system to increase efficiency and manage volume. If systems prove too expensive, opt for a hosted solution. Whether your systems is purchased or hosted, look for the following key features:
  • Intelligent routing of e-mails based inquiry type and skill and workload of available agents.
  • Historical and real-time reporting to monitor response time and identify trends.
  • Compatibility with existing customer record-keeping systems to ensure immediate access to customer information for agents.
  • Scalable architecture to handle volume growth of e-mails.

Technology provides valuable assistance but response quantity and quality also depends on your customer service representatives. Be prepared to conduct skill level assessments of your agents. Flawless telephone performance does not guarantee flawless e-mail execution. Identify agents with appropriate writing and reading comprehension skills and assign them to the 'e-mail detail.' Reinforce the importance of a well-crafted e-mail response through a training program that includes reminders on proper grammar, punctuation, spelling and comprehension. Additionally, provide these representatives with e-mail quality standards and incentives for meeting them.

E-mail responses should improve with the right technology and the right people in place. It is important to assure quality with daily monitoring of e-mails. Confirm that professional responses are sent to customers. Create pre-approved e-mail templates and maintain knowledge bases to increase consistency and efficiency.

Finally, provide a mechanism for your customers to supply feedback following each e-mail interaction. To be effective, customers' e-mailed comments and suggestions should be routed to highly skilled e-mail agents and key management staff. It provides both insights into customers' satisfaction levels and ideas for continuing to win customer loyalty.

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